Florida school helps ease transition for Haitian students

Florida schools are seeing significant numbers of Haitian students file through their doors - whether the schools are prepared to work with the young earthquake victims or not. One school equipped and ready to help was Miami-Killian High School in Miami.

Miami-Killian High School had resources on hand to help Haitian students feel some sense of control, despite the upheaval in their lives and the language barrier that existed in a new country. Dozens of Study Buddy hand-held learning devices were quickly pressed into service for the Haitian Creole-speaking students. Study Buddies look like small game devices but are actually handheld, interactive learning tools that students use to reinforce instruction in mathematics, language arts, math and science. Because the devices were loaded with content in their native language, the students could use them immediately, regardless of their English proficiency.

"It is so wonderful to hand one of our new students a learning device that already has content in their native language," said Sheryl Place, ESOL director at Miami-Killian High School. "These students have been through so much that it is just a comfort for them to see some lessons and resources in a familiar language. They know about cell phones and they know about gaming devices. The Study Buddy is familiar and it speaks their language."

Not only did these students suffer from the trauma and upheaval of recent events in Haiti, but they also landed in a new school right before state exams - the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

"There may be nothing else that these students can control in their lives at the moment but when you hand them a Study Buddy, you can almost see their shoulders relax. At least they can control this one thing and spend a little time learning without having to adapt to English," adds Ms. Place.

Study Buddies manufacturer Brainchild also offers a web-based assessment and instructional resource, Achiever! Students can practice for the FCAT without pressure while seeing how well they can handle English in a testing situation. They can refer to the Study Buddy in English, Spanish or Creole to explain concepts or continue working on problems until they understand the concept and are more comfortable with the English version of the questions.

"We find that our Haitian students have very good academic skills but they need help bridging the language barrier," adds Ms. Place. "Study Buddies allow them to go into their own world for a while and practice and build their confidence."